Friday, December 16, 2011

B. Wurtz: Drawing with Found Materials

Looking at the field of assemblage and collage, we may notice that the art of B. Wurtz stands out in a good way, away from the sepia-inspired tones and into the colorful imagination. In an interview, Wurtz says the pieces he makes (William < Bill < B) feel to him more like drawings. Working primarily with wood, wire, plastic shopping bags, mesh vegetable bags, and a variety of other everyday, yet seemingly invisible objects, Wurtz puts together sculptures and hanging pieces that are humorous and transformative. He also, I think, shows an appreciation for humans as industrial designers, makers of the tin can, the door latch, and the hose nozzle, among others. His content concerns, if we must list them, are: food, clothing, shelter, and beauty.

The body of work looks streamlined, contained, and unified partly because his palette is limited. In this case, his palette holds not specific paint colors, but specific objects. The wood he uses and builds with is mostly clean and new, with a prominent grain. The objects are either new or have been cleaned: the former layers of meaning stripped off. Instead of using the objects to refer to their earlier owners, past lives, or usual uses Wurtz chooses the objects to highlight formal concerns like pattern, color, shape, and texture. It is as if he has taken a microscope to their formal elements. In the interview, he describes a piece he calls "Monument" and his interests in "the grain of the wood, the lines of the can, the pattern on the sock," and, of course, how they look when placed next to one another. In this era where the weathered look is popular, particularly with found objects, Wurtz disregards the pre-patinated surface. It is not the surface treatment but the treatment of the object that interests him. When a flattened plastic bag starts looking like a tank top we are genuinely surprised. (For a bookmaking project we might use materials that blend seamlessly with our concept and project, but that are, at second glance, something quite unexpected. It is interesting to think that our eyes play tricks, that our memory might be wrong.)

The humor shows gently, for example, in a tabletop piece of a wooden base with two upright wires and a translucent white plastic bag suspended between the wires like a beard. Another piece is a hula hoop that appears to be circling around a dowel. The positioning in the gallery is part of a third work: a little green "fence" encircles bright green objects mounted on blocks as well as the brass plate that covers the electrical outlets embedded in the concrete floor. Where the objects are in space and what else is nearby are also important. (In bookmaking we might translate this concept to the layout—the placement of words and images on the page—as well as rhythm and sequence: what came before and what comes after and the relationship between them.)

You can see a tour of a recent exhibition here. In that video, note the child being pushed in a stroller who grins and reaches out for a tree of puffy, plastic bag foliage. The child, who not a sculpture, captures our own feelings about Wurtz's work, those of curiosity and delight in the world around us.


not B. Wurtz: photo of found objects, Berkeley, 2011

Brief bio: He was born in 1948 in Pasadena, CA. He holds an MFA from California Institute of the Arts, 1980. He currently lives in New York City. In 2006, B. Wurtz created a photographic artist book called Blocks, edition of 250.

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